Friday, February 26, 2016

Breakfast with a Cannibal and Other Stories on Impermanence

One minute I'm casually taking photos from the cliff side cafe where I stopped for coffee, the next minute I'm being propositioned to have my head eaten by a cannibal. Or at least that's what I thought was happening.

I noticed him first thing when I sat down for my coffee. Could have been the fact he looked a little like he just crawled out of a cave. Could have been the fact he kept blowing a whistle every time he needed something from the waiter. Who knows. By the time I stood up to take pictures and leave, he was blowing the whistle at me. I walked over to him, and he motioned for me to sit down. He tried to feed me a bite of his fruit salad and showed me his skull necklace. He then proceeded to run his finger across his throat and bite his arm. Then pointed at my head. I don't understand, I said. He made the motions again. About that time I was starting to get the feeling he was trying to tell me he was a cannibal and was perhaps asking if I'd like to give him my head.

At that point, he reached over and snatched the sunglasses off my head and grabbed my phone from my hand. He put the sunglasses on and poked at my phone taking a string of rather odd pictures of him smiling obliviously and me grabbing at my things. Once he got a few pictures, he gladly handed them back, but not without signing the eerie cannibal message to me again. I smiled and slowly backed away from him. I really wanted to ask him a few things--like: Are you a cannibal? Does your necklace represent how many folks you've eaten? Why are you eating fruit salad? Are you from Papua New Guinea, by chance?-- but I got the feeling he didn't speak so I made my quick escape.

Walking back down to the hidden little beach cove pressed against the cliff, I was left with the lingering feeling that maybe this was the start of a string of very strange stories I would be encountering. I am reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, after all. And if you've ever read Murakami, you already know where I'm going.

To say I finally got to fulfill my lifelong dream of dancing barefoot at a beach side dive bar (twirly skirt and all) to two Irish ladies singing Nancy Sinatra would be an understatement.

Let me start over. I was walking by the bar headed home when I swear I heard Whiskey in the Jar. I did hear Whiskey in the Jar. Two Irish ladies were singing it traditional style. I wandered in to listen to them for a bit when I heard a voice.

"Hey, I know you."

"I was just in here two days ago," I said.

Next thing I know, my new buddy Lloyd, a 20-something long term traveler from somewhere south England, shoved a beer at my face and started introducing me to everyone around us.

"You're a scientist too!" Exclaimed the Swedish scientist.

"No, I'm a writer," I said wondering how he could have possible gotten scientist out of writer.

"A science fiction writer," he shouted more enthusiastically.

"That's right," said Lloyd. "And she's really into Star Trek."

"I've never seen Star Trek," I said.

"Spock is her absolute favorite," Lloyd continued.

Then Mick, a retiree from Cambridge joined us.

"Mick, meet Sarah," Lloyd said. "She a science fiction writer from Texas."

"I am not from Texas," I interjected.

"A real hardcore Trekie. Loves Spock."

"Nice to meet you," said Mick.

"How long are you here?" I asked.

"Only 4 months this year," he said. "I typically stay 6 months, but this place can make you a little kooky after a while." He shook his head. "This is my 16th year coming here."

I nearly choked.

When it came up that I was headed to Thailand to teach English, the Swedish scientist told me he had once taught English in Japan for a couple years. "Loved it," he said. "Had to have some papers forged in Canada to get the job though."

I waited for him to finish the story, but he didn't. He just stared off into space for a moment and finally said, "Canada" with a sigh and took a sip of his drink.

It was then Lloyd pulled me off the barstool and out onto the floor where I kicked off my flip flops and twirled about wildly. The world a flip book around me.

Back at the bar, I noticed Lloyd had the word PlayStation tattooed in big black letters down his inner arm.

"Why do you have PlayStation tattooed down your arm?" I asked.

"Himalayan spiritual pilgrimage," he mumbled then fell off his barstool.

It was getting late. I finished the last sip of my beer, gathered my things, and waved goodbye to all the characters I'd met that night. I walked slow back to my guesthouse along the edge of the water trying to come to terms with the fact this strange group of people will forever remember me as the science fiction writer from Texas who's really into Star Trek, especially Spock.

I started dreaming in Russian. No, that's not entirely true. I wasn't asleep. I was half awake and hearing two folks talking loudly in Russian outside my door. It's an odd thing to wake up to really, especially while in India.

Later that night I was leaving my house to go on my nightly beach walk when I heard the most blissful thing in the world coming from the little beach shack at the end of my walkway. Cat Stevens. Well, not Cat Stevens, but it was a Cat Stevens song. I was lured in, and like a magic spell had been put on me, I couldn't leave.

Over the course of the next week, I kept finding this guy. And I would always stop and listen and stay because I couldn't not stop and listen and stay. I eventually decided I needed to talk to him because I was starting to feel a bit like a stalker (an accidental stalker, but still). Not too many days later, I am agreeing to be his student so he can practice teaching music in English. Last month, back at Amritapuri, I read a book that took place in Russia that was partly about a Russian musician. This month, I meet a Russian musician. These things happen.

Again, at that little seaside dive bar, between the chaos of Russian conversations, making plans to meet for the music/English lesson, and trying not to lose track of my flip flops that I had carelessly tossed somewhere, I was suddenly struck with how strange and impermanent everything about my life is these days--how so very different my life is here in Arambol to what it was back at the ashram in Kerala and how so very different it will be once I move northward to Rishikesh.

When I left for this trip, I had no expectations for India. I assumed I'd be getting a lot of writing done and doing lots of yoga, but other than that, I left a blank slate for the Universe to fill in. And it has filled it in with the most unexpected and surreal things. It's like bits and pieces of my subconscious are manifesting--kind of like in Contact when Ellie Arroway takes that wormhole to meet the aliens and everything is shadowed by the images in her subconscious. Or like a Murakami book, where you're led down odd, twisting, surreal paths and plots that go nowhere. The point isn't where you're being led--it's getting sucked into the magic of that moment in time, one moment falling away to the next, impermanent and fleeting. Letting go of expectation and attachment to such isolated magical, fleeting moments, helps drive the magic.

Have you ever just let go expectation and let magic take over? What did you learn? Where did it lead you?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Not a Backpacker

I awake at dawn and wander the nearly deserted streets of this sleepy little Indian beach town. I follow the dirty, hidden path to the back of the house and climb the crumbling concrete stairs to the rooftop where my yoga class is held.

I sit for hours reading and writing in the outdoor living room like atmosphere of the cafe below the yoga shala.

I lounge on a different beach each day brainstorming story scenes and blog ideas. Some days I hike to the Banyan Tree, most days I don't. I get lost down the alleyway like market streets buying cheap clothes and coconut smoothies.

I meander down the beach every night seeking out fun music and having awkward conversations with expats and locals and travelers.

When I get emails and messages from friends back home asking what I've done since I've been here...I think, well, I'm living an amazing dream like life, but I haven't really done much. I'm not out to see all the sights--living out of hostels and taking 12 hour overnight bus rides to see some ruins. I'm not keeping myself on the go because I'm not a backpacker. That is not my intention for this journey.

My intention is to plant myself in one spot and live. Not to say I won't take day trips here and there, but I'm not a backpacker. I'm out to become local where ever I am. At the ashram, I became an ashram resident and kept an ashram schedule. Here in Arambol, I'm living the beach bum life in the tropics.

I have become, as Liz Gilbert once put it, someone "who has been so ill-treated and badly worn by life that they've dropped the whole struggle and decided to camp out here in [cheap, tropical location] indefinitely....but generally, all they are doing here is seeing to it that nothing serious will ever be asked of them again."

Don't get me wrong, I've been know to pack more activities into a 10 day or 3 week vacation than many people do in 5 years, but that's not what I'm doing here. I'm immersing myself into these places and into life with no responsibility or agenda. I don't want to flit across the surface like a bug on water; I want to dive deep (as deep as I can in a month's time) and see and feel what's inside.

I measure my days in how many new pages I've written and how many submissions I've made. I seek to learn something new about my town and meet someone new or get to know someone better, try the local food and follow the acoustic music pouring from the outdoor cafes that line the beach, to be ever present where I've landed.

What kind of a traveler are you? Whether you are on vacation or a long term traveler--do you land and stay or are you always on the go? Comment below or shoot me an email. Let's keep these conversations going!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Lost in the Fold

It's so easy to melt into Arambol like butter on thick, hot toast--absorbing into the crevasses, never again finding yourself in that solid, separate state that you once were. I can see why people end up here and never leave. Life is easy and cheap, and time is only measured by the rising and setting of the sun.

No one seems to know how long they've been here. I asked a girl from England who sat with me at breakfast one morning how long she had been here. She shrugged, I don't know, five months, maybe. She didn't seem all that concerned about it.

People fold into this place and become indistinguishable from it. Everyone kind of looks like they went to a music festival about 4 days ago--the festival ended, but no one went back to the life they came from.

I'm careful of these sorts of things--folding into places and people and things, losing the edges that make me who I am. This place has worn on the jagged edges I left Santa Cruz with, but I'm still intact--my edges softened, but still distinct and my own.

I wander the beach front and market streets and dusty, jungle paths. Around every corner seems a delightful and sometimes magical surprise--like the Kundaini Yoga classes I stumbled across at a place called--appropriately enough--Magic Park. Or the barefoot kids with dreadlocks and unidentifiable accents that I followed along a rugged jungle path--up to the Banyan Tree where the Old Man lives who invites everyone to his home under the tree to play music and chat with him.

I feel the free spirit attitude soaring through the atmosphere at my end of the beach. Turn a market corner at the other end and I see sketched out hippie kids who fit snug into this place, the laces pulled tight--there's no going back to anywhere for them.

There is no rhythm to living here, no solid foundation to build from or climb onto. There is no purpose other than turning your cheek to the world you were born into and disappearing into the chasm that is Arambol, Goa, India.

How much does place play into who you are? Do you get lost into the fold your environment or rub against it without ever sinking in? How has moving changed who you are (if at all)? Tell me your stories.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Between Earth and Sky

In my last few days here at Amritapuri, I've spent a good chunk of time dwelling on what that Tarot reader told me.

His tarot deck was quite weathered with use and in French which to me made it all that more authentic. He could have told me anything, and I would have believed it as long as it came from a weathered deck and someone with a thick French accent. 

I'm dwelling on the fact he told me that I cannot leave without an Amma mantra. He said it with such fervor it frightened me. You must! He had said. He said it would ground me, and I must be grounded in order to succeed in my creative endeavors. If it weren't for gravity, you'd just float away, he had said and twirled this pointer finger into the air. He told me I needed to ground in order to channel the massive amounts of creative energy swirling inside of me--all bound up and stuck at my 2nd chakra. And according to him, the only way he saw fit for me to ground and unblock my chakra was to request a mantra from Amma during darshan.

I attempted.

I hadn't gotten a blessing from her since my first visit to her ashram in San Ramon, California over the summer. I had forgotten how incredibly hectic the whole process is. When it's finally your turn to get embraced by this larger than life woman, you're literally fighting against people shoving letters, pictures, and cell phones in her face, talking to her non-stop. She's constantly surrounded by people and chaos, and you're just shoved into the middle of it. I get the feeling that if you can speak her native language, Malayalam, she can be quite friendly and chatty.

After my embrace, I looked at her and clearly said, Amma mantra, please. At that exact moment, a man behind me shoved something in her face, and a big hand grabbed my shoulder and yanked me back from her. I started to walk off the stage when another hand grabbed my arm and a voice whispered, you can sit over here, don't be alarmed. Alarmed? What's going on? I asked. She does this sometimes, the woman told me. Amma had abruptly gotten up and left the stage, and everyone was treating it like a strange and mystical experience. My theory? Bathroom break. They weren't letting anyone off the stage until she returned so I was stuck. Mantra-less and stuck and at that point, really really hungry.

She did return a few moments later, but by then I had time to start dwelling on the fact this tarot reader told me I must! and I had failed at that thing that I must!

The next day at her talk on the beach she focused on how all spiritual paths and religions are accepted here at Amritapuri, and that is why no one is required to participate in the ongoing schedule of rituals and practices that take place here--only participate if it resonates with you.

The truth is I don't need an Amma mantra. I'm not a devotee. I already have a spiritual path and practice full of powerful tools that has worked for me in incredible, miraculous ways for many, many years (perhaps lifetimes). It's a matter of re-focusing it now that I'm out in the world roaming around and exploring. I think the tarot guy was spot on and gave me a lot to think about, but I'm going with my intuition on how to proceed from here.

How do you ground yourself when your floating along in life somewhere between earth and sky? Tell me about a time you chose your intuition over blind faith. How did it turn out for you?

Signing off from Amritapuri, Kerala. Kerala means Land of the Coconut Palms, by the way. And indeed it is! Tomorrow night I will be in a whole new town, in a whole new state, in a whole new world.